Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract (v2.April 2016)

Capitalising on post-IATEFL momentum and motivation, I’ve decided it’s time to renew my language learning goals – and practice what I preach! I’m always telling learners, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re busy, even ten minutes a day is better than nothing’ and encouraging them to maintain motivation. Meanwhile, what about me? Well, it could be worse, I suppose…

  • I DO write my diary in Italian (nearly) every day (I missed a couple of days while at IATEFL, for example!). My reading is slightly more sporadic – at the moment I’m listening and reading along with Per dieci minuti written and read aloud by Chiara Gamberale. It generally happens while I am having a bath in the evening but sometimes I am just too tired! (I’m also in the middle of a translation of the third book in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. But I haven’t dipped into that since I got back home from my most recent trip to Sicily, at Easter!)
  • I also have a stack of magazines that I don’t dip into as often as I should (read: erm, when was the last time I did so?!)
  • I’m reading in German a few times a week at the moment too, am quite enjoying the book I am in the middle of. It’s about horses and aimed at young teenagers (!) – good fun. 😉
  • I’m also in the middle of a book in French (Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola) but it’s been a while since I dipped into that properly – though I did read about one page recently!

It’s Polish that’s the real problem. I decided I was going to learn Polish in late May last year. Suffice to say, it wound up on the back burner. However, last night, for the first time in ages, riding the wave of post-IATEFL motivation, I dug out my ‘Harry Potter 1 in Polish’ audiobook and listened a bit, just enjoying the sounds and rhythm. (I had want to listen and read along but I’ve got to work out where my e-book of it is stored, was unable to find it quickly enough…) I still want to learn Polish. However, it doesn’t end there. I’ve also got a little bee in my bonnet telling me to try another project: Project “see how much Spanish I can pick up purely through using graded readers”. Unlike Polish, Spanish graded readers are fairly easy to come by – including those with audio discs, which are the sort I would go for. I think it would be an interesting experiment!

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 08.57.31

Using the theory I’ve used on my learners, I am going to communicate my learning goals to you lot who read this blog in the hopes that it motivates me to achieve more than I would have otherwise. Even if I don’t always manage to meet my self-inflicted contractual obligations, it will hopefully still be more than I would have achieved if I hadn’t made them in the first place.

Lizzie’s Learning Contract

I solemnly do declare that I will (attempt to) do the following this week:

  • read and/or listen to something in Italian
  • read and/or listen to something in French
  • read and/or listen to something in German
  • use my 1000 first words in Polish
  • “read”/”listen to” Harry Potter in Polish
  • use Memrise and/or Quizlet for Polish
  • use my Polish for Dummies book
  • use graded readers in Spanish

Signed: Lizzie Pinard

That’s all! It’s not a huge ask. The first three are very vague, but that’s fine – it means they encompass any kind of input I wish to use (books, audiobooks, magazines, radio, tv etc) As as sub-goal, I will aim to vary it if I can…

Let’s see how it goes. There will be updates at various possibly semi-regular intervals!

Is anybody else trying to learn a new language at the moment? How are you going about it? Is it working?! 🙂

 

 

 

Leeds Beckett Multimedia and Independent Learning module session 2: The Learner Autonomy Maze

Yesterday (7.2.16) I did my second session for the Leeds Beckett M.A. ELT’s Multimedia and Independent Learning. This time, it was an online session, conducted using Adobe Connect software, and its title was “The Learner Autonomy Maze”. It was the longest online session I’ve delivered to date, and the extra length was actually rather nice because it meant I could spend plenty of time on all the interactive elements and respond to what was coming up in the chat without feeling panicky about getting through all the content. (This probably means that when I plan my 1hr webinars, I really need to include less content so that I still have plenty of time for all the interaction!) Having met the students in the face to face session I did with them several weeks ago, I felt very relaxed right from the start, which was also nice. It gave me a taste of what online teaching might be like, which made me think back to the session about this that I attended at the ELTC recently and, I believe, still need to write up!

I started by outlining the session, which was to be a combination of theory and practical ideas, and then briefly elicited student definitions of learner autonomy. Before turning to definitions from the literature, I also asked them to think back to a drawing activity that they had done at the start of the module, in which they had to draw what learner autonomy looks like, and consider whether their perceptions had changed since then, courtesy of the lessons and/or their reading. The general feeling was that their perception of it had expanded beyond the image of a lone learner sitting in front of a computer, to include such things as other resources, other learners (collaboration), decision-making and knowing how to learn.

I then went on to highlight that definitions of learner autonomy tend to depend on the context, beliefs and past experiences of the person doing the defining. Indeed, we all talk about learner autonomy, which is somewhat of a “buzzword” in ELT, but often we are talking about different things. Sometimes defining exactly what you mean can be a useful starting point! Of course the literature can be helpful for this.

From there, we looked at some of the theory around learner autonomy in the literature, starting with Holec (of course!)’s (1981) both oft-quoted and less frequently referred to ideas:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 08.33.17

We also considered different perspectives of learner autonomy (as described in Oxford (2003):

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 08.34.50Firstly, there is the technical perspective, in which autonomy consists of the successful acquisition and implementation of a set of skills and techniques enabling learning outside of a classroom context. This is a deficit model, where the learner is a blank slate and the teacher’s role is to transfer a set of skills the possession of which, in the teacher’s view, makes an autonomous learner. Secondly, there is the psychological perspective, where the focus moves to what is going on inside the learner’s head, in which autonomy is defined as a capacity consisting of both attitudes and abilities. Then there are two socio-cultural perspectives, which emphasise social interaction and participation in a community of practice, with the belief that learning is mediated by a more experienced other. This can be the teacher but it can also be other learners, as all learners bring differing experiences and skills to the classroom. Finally, in the political version, the emphasis is on control over the learning process and content.

We looked at different approaches to learner autonomy (Benson, 2011):

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 08.41.42

The role of motivation (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) and metacognition (Vandergrift and Goh, 2012), and methodological possibilities (e.g. Smith 2003) were also considered. I believe that motivation and metacognition are both deeply entwined with learner autonomy and when we are thinking about how to foster autonomy, we need to consider these aspects too, in terms how to help learners develop the metacognitive thinking skills that will help them manage their learning better and how to help them stay motivated in the uphill struggle of learning a language and maintaining effort both in and outside the classroom.

I then shared a little bit about how I get students reading and using English outside the classroom, highlighting the importance of effective goal setting (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012 – 6 main principles of goal setting) and motivational flow (see Egbert 2003 in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012). Next I moved on to talking about my EAP experience (yep, all two summers of it!) and some of the tools I used with my learners in the listening component of the summer programme, such as listening logs, strategy tables and metacognitive pedagogy (see Vandergrift and Goh 2012). In talking about these projects, I tried to demonstrate how, in each of them, I had used the learner autonomy/metacognition/motivation- related literature to inform my practice as best I could.

To round off with, I used a few sound bites from the literature and strongly recommended Morrison and Navarro (2014) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012) as go to books for ideas of how to systematically bring autonomy into the classroom. For more learner autonomy and metacognition-related resources, I also pointed the students at this post  on my blog.

Hopefully the session was useful for the students. (Thank you, students, for being so talkative/responsive throughout the session!) Finally thank you to Heather for giving me the opportunity to do this session. 🙂

Here are some of the resources I used:

Here is a list of the references I used:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Borg and Al-Busaidi (2012) Learner Autonomy: English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices London: British Council.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition)Harlow: Pearson Education.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Holliday, A. (2005) The struggle to teach English as an International Language (Kindle Edition)Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) Canterbury: IATEFL.

Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. (2014) The Autonomy Approach: Language learning in the classroom and beyond. Delta Publishing.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. Oxon: Routledge.

Workshop on Learner Autonomy at the ELTC

Yesterday (Wednesday the 3rd December, 2015) saw me deliver my first workshop at Sheffield University’s ELTC. This seems a rather fitting way to round off (well, there *are* only a couple weeks left!) my first full term as a teacher here! Inevitably, perhaps, my topic of choice was Learner Autonomy.

In preparing this session, the main challenge that I faced was the wide range of teaching programmes that run at the ELTC and elsewhere around the campus by the ELTC. This contrasts with my previous context where General English (for all ages) was the main offering, with a smattering of exam prep in the form of IELTS classes. At the ELTC, the courses on offer split into three major categories – full time, part time and language support, and there are a lot of acronyms in use (to add to the vast quantities in the ELT world in general!).  For example, we have PAE (Pathway)  and AEPC (Academic English Preparatory Course) which are both full time courses run during the academic year, and ISS (International Summer School) which is the full time summer programme. As well as the academic focus classes, there are exam preparation classes (IELTS, FCE, CAE, as well as the USEPT, which is the ELTC’s equivalent to IELTS and, along with IELTS, is accepted as an entrance requirement) and General English classes (e.g. my own Upper Intermediate lot). You can find more information about the ELTC’s programmes here.

My own experience is limited to General English, exam prep and two summers of ISS. So, my general idea of the workshop was to share my own experience and some of the theory behind what I’ve done with learner autonomy within this, and encourage exploration of how this could be applied or adapted for the various programmes running at the ELTC. I believe that much of what I shared was adaptable for use on various programmes, as I offered various frameworks for systematising the fostering of autonomy which are based on Smith (2003)’s strong methodology so start with and build on what the learner brings to the table. Also, on a more selfish note, as I hoped, I also managed to learn more about these different programmes here in the process of sharing my ideas! Fortunately my colleagues are a nice bunch, so while I was incredibly nervous beforehand (particularly with regards to how much more experience and knowledge they have compared to me!), I could at least be reasonably sure they wouldn’t chew me up to spit me out in a thousand little broken pieces, which was reassuring! 😉

I started with a little discussion and drawing activity, to elicit participants’ ideas of what learner autonomy is and looks like, highlighting that definitions of learner autonomy tend to depend on the context, beliefs and past experiences of the person doing the defining. We all talk about learner autonomy but often we are talking about different things. I guess this could be called the buzzword effect! From there, we looked at some of the theory around learner autonomy in the literature, starting with Holec (of course!)’s both oft-quoted and less frequently referred to ideas. Different perspectives of learner autonomy (as described in Oxford (2003), different aspects of learner autonomy (Benson, 2011), the role of motivation (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) and methodological possibilities (e.g. Smith 2003) were also considered.

I then shared a little bit about how I get students reading and using English outside the classroom, highlighting the importance of effective goal setting (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012 – 6 main principles of goal setting) and motivational flow (see Egbert 2003 in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) as well as looking at use of internet based tools (Google Classroom, Blogs and Wordandphrase.info) which lead to some very lively discussion around the use of technology in the classroom! Next I moved on to talking about my EAP experience (yep, all two summers of it!) and some of the tools I used with my learners in the listening component of the summer programme, such as listening logs, strategy tables and metacognitive pedagogy (see Vandergrift and Goh 2012).

To round off with, I used a few sound bites from the literature and strongly recommended Morrison and Navarro (2014) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012) as go to books for ideas of how to systematically bring autonomy into the classroom.

Here are some of the resources I used:

Here is a list of the references I used:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Borg and Al-Busaidi (2012) Learner Autonomy: English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices London: British Council.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Holliday, A. (2005) The struggle to teach English as an International Language (Kindle Edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) Canterbury: IATEFL.

Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. (2014) The Autonomy Approach: Language learning in the classroom and beyond. Delta Publishing.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. Oxon: Routledge.

*The* keys! :-) Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Could these resources be the key? 🙂 Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

 

Learning Polish – being a true beginner (my newest challenge!)

Those of you who follow read my blog regularly will have seen a number of posts relating to my journey of learning Italian, something that I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. In my two 8-month stints in Palermo, I have managed to get myself from beginner level to intermediate level, though a lot of that improvement actually took place during the summer between those two contracts where I studied intensively and independently, partially to improve my Italian and partially to experiment with independent learning techniques.

This year, I am leaving Italy and returning to the UK, a move which I hope will be permanent. While I fully intend to hold on to my Italian (by speaking to Italian friends, reading in Italian and watching films in Italian, for example), I also decided that it was about time for a new linguistic challenge.

Enter Polish.

Why Polish? 

In no particular order:

  • I am a complete beginner at Polish. I can only say goodbye (but not spell it) – because once upon a time my mum had some Polish kids in her L2 unit at primary school. (Once I started secondary school, holidays did not coincide and so when I was on half term or holiday, I would often go into school with mum and listen to kids read and suchlike. The Polish children used to say goodbye in Polish at the end of the day when they went home.) = indubitably a challenge!
  • I have never tried to learn a language whose alphabet is different from English. Polish has some different letters, as well as using some consonant clusters that English either doesn’t use or doesn’t use in the same way. So, not as difficult as, say, learning Arabic would be but more difficult than French, German or Italian, which are the languages I have learnt to varying degrees so far. From a learning perspective, this is a challenge; from a teaching perspective, this should help me better understand the problems students whose L1 is further from English might experience.
  • My sister’s husband is Polish and his family don’t speak a lot of English, so it would be nice to be able to communicate basically with them when they visit. Of course, my sister is learning Polish too, for obvious reasons. And anything she can do, I can do better, right? Well, maybe not but we can egg each other on and practice together on Skype and stuff, I imagine. 🙂 And of course, when I visit them, I get practice opportunities!
  • Sandy Millin is moving to Poland to take up a DoS job there, and I would like to visit, as I have never been to Poland before. It would be nice not to be completely helpless if this happens! Also, a bit of healthy competition never hurt anybody! 😉

What I have done so far:

  • Downloaded a Memrise course in Beginners Polish.

(This was my starting point for Italian too…).

The good thing about this is the recordings that accompany the words and the memes that you have to choose to help you remember the words. The memes for my Italian course seemed all too often to involve random rather unhelpful busty blonde women, whereas the ones in this Polish course so far are quite useful memory aids. However, I have noticed that I can often remember the sound of the word via the meme, but then can’t remember the spelling associated with it. So on my list of things to do is get to grips with the sound-script thing. Fortunately this shouldn’t be tooooo difficult (famous last words?) because, as I understand it, Polish is written phonetically, with a very small number of exceptions. I need to stop applying English sound-spelling rules (dodgy as they are!) to Polish words.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.27.03

Beginner…that’s me!

 

  • Looked for resources: 

This started as a hunt for Graded Readers, but apparently these are thin on the ground where Polish is concerned. What wouldn’t I give for an A1 Black Cat Graded Reader in Polish now… Nevertheless, I have found a Polish for Dummies book which looks promising (I have been looking at the free sample!). It comes with an audio disc (or, as I would get the e-book, an audio download) in that it explains the pronunciation and some grammar stuff, as one would expect, but also apparently has lots of conversations recorded. I feel like it would be helpful for me to just read and listen a bit to start with, to help me get to grips with what Polish looks like vs how it sounds, because in my life, I have not heard a lot of Polish or seen a lot of Polish. Hardly any, actually!

For Dummies like me! :-)

For Dummies like me! 😉

I have also seen some Usborne Everyday Words flashcards, which I find rather appealing. Which reminds me, I must have a trawl through Quizlet and see if there is anything ready-made on there that I could use. I should also start to make my own in due course. The Usborne ones I saw have also reminded me that I could also post-it everything when I get back to the UK… 😀

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.23.45

Yay, pictures!

 

Finally, I will confess, Harry Potter in Polish has crossed my mind as a possibility… or perhaps Twilight … using the same approach as I did with Italian initially, i.e. the original text and the translation side by side until I can manage without the original, but I think I need to get my head around pronunciation first!

Good old Harry Potter...!

Good old Harry Potter…!

What happens next?

  • Probably very little this week, being the last week of term and therefore very busy. If I can log on to my Memrise course a couple of times and do some review, I would be happy with that!
  • Once I am on holiday, download Polish for Dummies and start listening and reading. And work on the sound-spelling thing.
  • Then, when I get back to the UK, make myself a learning contract!

Of course, it’s going to be a bit different from last summer.

A) there is no time limit on the Polish, whereas with the Italian I wanted to get it down by the end of the summer last year.

B) I want to work on my other languages too – my French, my German and, of course, keep up the Italian. I am wondering what my brain will make of juggling 4 languages plus English on a regular basis. (Another experiment…) So I suppose my room will be little Europe rather than little Italy as it was last summer!

Let’s see what happens… I’ll aim to post another update in a month’s time! For that matter, I also aim to actually publish some of the pile of drafts that have built up on my blog ‘work-desk’ since IATEFL!! It’s been a busy time. The tumbleweed will get booted out of the way soon, though – watch this space! 🙂

IATEFL 2015 Fostering autonomy: harnessing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Well, I thought I had better attend my own talk…

My abstract for this year’s talk is as follows:

It is widely acknowledged that language learning requires use of the target language outside the classroom as well as inside it. However, learner autonomy is often expected rather than fostered. This talk looks at what can be done in the classroom to help learners harness the rich resources of language accessible outside, with greater confidence and effectiveness.

The outcome

My talk outline was a simple one:

  • Definitions of learner autonomy
  • Problems with learner autonomy
  • Solutions and ideas (My 7 top tips)
  • Discussion

Being the good old graveyard slot, getting towards the end of the day, I decided to turn my talk into a game: good old-fashioned bingo!

So having looked at what learner autonomy is and involves:

Learner autonomy

Learner autonomy

…and the issues we face in trying to foster it:

Problems problems!

Problems problems!

I asked the audience to pair up and brainstorm their top 7 tips. This became their ‘bingo card’, to compare with my own 7.

My top 7 tips

1.

Tip 1

Tip 1

What I mean by this is, find out as much as you can, as soon as you can, about what your students do and don’t do already. Encourage them to find out as much as they can about what their peers are doing. This is your starting point. How: For example, at the beginning of the course, you could use a Find Someone Who activity (they find out about each other, you listen in and find out about them), followed by writing you a letter (you find out some more). They aren’t empty vessels.

Here is an example FSW I made and used with some of my classes.

2.

Tip 2

Tip 2

In a nutshell, provide ideas. E.g. my experimentation with English handout. With higher levels, encourage them to add and share ideas of their own. There is no such thing as an exhaustive list. (For more information about this, look at my previous related posts! )

3.

Tip 3

Tip 3

Nothing happens overnight…

In fact, the question of time works on many levels. Firstly, give them time to talk about their outside class activities in class. Doesn’t have to be heaps of time. Little and often is good. This provides opportunities to bolster each others’ motivation, spark interest in untried ideas, share victories or issues, celebrate, troubleshoot and so on. It also motivates them to keep going. Secondly, in terms of take up: Don’t worry if they aren’t all enamoured with the project from the get-go. Give them time to get used to it, and to start to recognise the benefits. Encourage discussion of the benefits.

4.

Tip 4

Tip 4

This links to my previous tip, in terms of discussion of benefits. Helping students develop meta-awareness of the learning process is important, as understanding the why behind activities will help them be better able to select suitable activities themselves, independently. This makes them less teacher-reliant in the long run. This contrasts with just blindly doing what teacher tells them. For ideas of how to engage student metacognition, I suggest reading/using:

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Note the free samples also!

Note the free samples also!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.

Tip 5

Tip 5

Having realistic goals to aim towards helps to break down the mammoth task of learning a language into achievable steps in the right direction. This helps students not to lose motivation and to be more aware of their own progress.

6.

Tip 6

Tip 6 – Forget-me-not!

It’s important not to set everything up and then forget about it. Keep being interested in what the learners are doing. Give them that bit of time regularly, as mentioned before. If you forget about it, chances are they will too. Let them show off! Keep bringing it back into the classroom.

7.

Tip 7

Tip 7

Use some kind of platform that allows them to share and communicate outside class e.g. Edmodo or a class blog or wiki. This immediately increases the scope and variety of what learners can do outside class. More activities become possible. (For ideas of how to use Edmodo or class blogs/wikis in this way, see the posts I have written in relation to this!)

Feedback

Having shared my 7 tips and so brought the game of Bingo to its end, I shared a bit of feedback from students:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 07.08.15

Feedback

 

Then I asked the audience to discuss how they might apply these tips to their own context:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 07.11.10

Discussion questions

 

And finally offered a list of references/recommended reading:

References

References

Thank you to all who attended my talk, it was a pleasure to speak at IATEFL for my second time and I look forward to the next time! 🙂

 

 

Motivation

Motivation is a slippery beast.

Amongst those who research it, there are many differing views (Dornyei and Ushioda 2012) but there is agreement with regards to its effect on human behaviour:

“Motivation is responsible for

  • why people decide to do something
  • how long they are willing to sustain the activity
  • how hard they are going to pursue it” (ibid: kindle loc 259, emphasis as per original)

A lot of investigation into motivation has taken place over the years, with various theories abounding to account for the origins of motivation, the effects of motivation, the effects of the absence of motivation and other such elements.

Motivation is fascinating.

It is something that everybody both enjoys and struggles with at various intervals. It can fluctuate hugely in a very short space of time. When you’re feeling motivated, you can’t imagine not being motivated by whatever it is that is motivating you at that time, but then something happens and your motivation nose-dives, at which point you find it difficult to imagine feeling motivated again. Motivation can be influenced by so many things, both external and internal. Of these influences, some will kindle motivation and some will dampen it, changes which may occur simultaneously, resulting in a sort of battle of influences, with victory being a very temporary state. Of course, with so many influences at play, it is difficult to identify which one is responsible for any change that occurs (Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012).

Motivation is closely entwined with learner autonomy.

My other passion, learner autonomy, is closely entwined with motivation. Nobody is going to dedicate any length of time or great effort to doing something that they are not motivated (whether that motivation be positive or negative) to do. Autonomous language learning, by nature, requires, amongst other things, motivation. The motivation to begin, and, as importantly, the motivation to keep going. Enthusiastic language study/use for two days followed by several weeks of doing nothing will have little effect on one’s competence. Indeed, Williams and Burden, 1997 (in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) highlight the need for language teachers to consider not only the arousal of interest but also the longer term process of helping learners sustain it. I would argue that this applies not only to motivation within the classroom across the duration of a course, but also to the motivation for learning outside the classroom.

Developing one’s language skills autonomously is hard work. It is hard enough work, when, as a teacher, you are very aware of how learning a language works: we know that it is slow, that progress may seem invisible, but we also know that every little helps and that perseverance is key. We know how important exposure to the target language, in all its forms, is; we know that a vast amount of this type of exposure is necessary for the effects to become apparent. We have awareness of different approaches to learning, different activities and the benefits of these, enabling us to combine them as we see best suits our needs. Of course, even with our knowledge of all these things, we are not immune to dips in motivation. There are far too many different elements that influence motivation for anybody to be immune to dips in it.

Motivation is long-term.

Perhaps, then, in terms of sustaining motivation, we ought to ask not only “how do I stay motivated?/how do I help my learners stay motivated?” but also “how do I rekindle my motivation when it dips?/how do I help my learners rekindle their motivation when it dips?” Take, for example, my Italian learning. Over the summer, while I was in the UK, I was, by and large, hugely motivated to improve my Italian. I worked so hard on it that my housemate dubbed my attic bedroom “Little Italy”. My key motivation was being able to converse in Italian when I got back to Palermo. Fast forward back to mid-October, and here I am. Have I spoken loads of Italian? No. Outside of work, there has been the odd bit of transactional communication, at work, the opportunities to actually converse, getting beyond pleasantries (hi, how are you, how was your weekend etc.) are few and far between. (I think I need PSP Speaking [on offer at IHPA – multilevel English conversation hour that students can freely sign up for, in addition to their courses] in Italian!)  Since returning to Palermo, my motivation has fluctuated a lot more than it did in the UK. I find this interesting because being in the target language environment is supposed to be motivational. It’s supposed to be harder to stay motivated when you are outside it. Perhaps this would be the case if you had no concrete plans to travel to the target language environment in the foreseeable future.

Motivation is problematic.

My first problem after getting back to Palermo was that I lost my overall driving goal – that of ‘being able to converse in Italian when I get back to Palermo‘. Initially I was very happy – I managed to do things like sort out my phone and internet in the phone shop unaided, a far cry from the same time last year, when I had no language and could do nothing independently. And then something happened. A week where, for the first time in ages, I didn’t meet my (updated) learning contract – by a long shot. I just hadn’t really bothered. Instead, I merely read my current book(s). After that week elapsed and I had even “forgotten” to do my weekly reflection (in Italian), I had a little emergency meeting with myself, to try and figure out what was going on. What was going on was that I didn’t feel motivated anymore. My outdated goal needed updating. It has now, as of a couple of days ago, become ‘I need to keep studying so that when opportunities to speak properly in Italian do occasionally arise, I haven’t lost all the language I was building up over the summer with afore-mentioned opportunities in mind’. The reflection and the goal-updating have helped my motivation somewhat. Of course one of my other motivations, that I love the Italian language, has remained a motivation – but that only motivates me to keep reading and to a lesser extent watching/listening in Italian. All well and good, but the speaking only gets rustier! What all of this highlights for me is some issues around goal-setting: goals need to be updated if circumstances change (but a change in circumstances may, of course, not be as big as a move between countries as in my example); lack of, or outdated, goals can result in lack of motivation; goals that are too general don’t have such a strong effect on motivation (“I want to be better at Italian” could be said to be a goal of mine, of course, but it is not specific enough to motivate me on its own.) Plenty of food for thought.

Motivation is inspirational. 

This whole process, spanning the months from June when I started learning Italian in earnest through until now, has on various occasions given me food for thought, leading me to wonder how to apply what I learn from my own experience to what I do with students in the classroom. The latest developments have lead me to delve into further experimentation with helping learners manage their motivation. I say “further” because my learner autonomy projects last year had a strong thread of this running through them. So perhaps this post is a very long-winded way of saying “stay tuned for more posts relating to motivation and language learning” !

References:

Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Applied Linguistics in Action) Routledge. Oxon.

Teaching Academic Listening (and transferral to the General English classroom!)

This summer, I worked on a pre-sessional course for the very first time…

At Sheffield University, as well as teaching your tutor group writing skills and guiding them through the process of producing an extended written project, each teacher is responsible for teaching one of the other skills (reading, speaking or listening) to their own and a further two groups. For me, that skill was listening, 8 weeks of academic listening. And it was really interesting!

In this post, I’m going to share some of what I’ve done with my students and some of what I’ve learnt in the process. I also want to reflect on what might be transferable back to the general English classroom at International House, Palermo – rather imminently! (This post has been a few weeks in the pipelines!)

The 8 week listening thread of the pre-sessional course at Sheffield University was based on OUP EAP upper intermediate/B2 (de Chazal & McCarter, 2012) The listening skills development in this course book, to me, seems very strongly rooted in strategy development: students are equipped with strategies to use in order to help themselves listen more effectively to academic texts e.g lectures. Generic elements and functional language are teased out and students’ awareness raised, combined with scaffolded practice opportunities. This scaffolding is evident within units and across the book as a whole, where a gradual decrease can be identified, as students are expected to listen increasingly more independently.

This in mind, was all I had to do turn up and open to page x? Possibly not! In any case, having read a lot about teaching listening (e.g.Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action  Vandergrift and Goh 2012), much of which seemed applicable to academic listening, and adding to this what I had gleaned from the induction week as well as the relevant chapter in EAP Essentials (Alexander, Argent and Spencer, 2008), I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the listening skills thread:

  1. Include (systematically, with gradually decreasing scaffolding) review activities at the start of the class and reflective activities at the end. (3hr lessons lend themselves to this approach beautifully!)
  2. Avoid the scenario of students meeting a new strategy and then consigning it to the dusty depths of a folder, never to be used again.
  3. Enable students to track their progress/development and recognise an accumulation of strategies being at their disposal. Not only this but also encourage *regular use* of them.
  4. Linked to all of the above, help the students become more independent listeners.

How did I do this?

  • Long-term planning

I made a hand-out to accompany each class, based on the activities in the course-book. Each handout guided the learners through the lesson from reflection to main content to review, also highlighting any new strategies introduced, and I made several weeks’ worth in advance. The main reason for this was time-management, trying to free up time for intensive marking periods and planned absences (graduation, wedding). However, I noticed that it really helped the coherence, especially as I had Vandergrift and Goh (2012) in mind, in terms of systematically reducing scaffolding and guiding learners towards independence in planning, monitoring and evaluating their strategy use. There was clear progression, explicit progression, from one class to the next.

Result: 

Increased coherence, making the content more useful for students.

I had the ss fill in a feedback form at the end of the class - 4 questions, no numbers, to encourage reflection  (for them) and to gain an insight into their thoughts (for me).

I had the ss fill in a feedback form at the end of the class – 4 questions, no numbers, to encourage reflection (for them) and to gain an insight into their thoughts (for me).

Out of 36 responses, one was withholding judgement until he/she knew whether he/she had passed the USEPT exam (the university entrance proficiency test), one thought it was partly useful but felt we talked too much, and the rest were “yes”‘s.

Transferability: 

It’s different in a General English environment, as courses tend to be organised around grammar structures. However, what I want to try and do this year at IH Palermo is help students see how they are building on what they have learnt and be more systematic in how I approach my lessons in terms of review and reflection. Of course, being 1hr20 minute lessons rather than 3hr lessons limits the amount of time available for this. Nevertheless, working with the time available, a similar ratio could usefully be applied.

  • Strategy tables

Strategy tables kept and updated by the students over the duration of the course.

Strategy tables kept and updated by the students over the duration of the course.

I made these between week 2 and week three of the course, following the blank stares that emerged in the initial review section of week 2. The idea was to help students build up a reference/resource, where at a glance they can see what strategies they have learnt and how to use them. This means they should be more likely to use them independently, rather than systematically forget about them, as new strategies are encountered. I completed the first strategy as an example, gave the students a little bit of time at the end of the class in week three to start updating them (so as to ensure they knew what they were doing) and then sent them off under instructions to bring their tables up to date. An important thing that emerged from this was the fact that it was not an instant success. The following week, not all students had updated their tables. However, by bringing it back into the classroom each week at the beginning of the lesson (students would compare their tables), an expectation of autonomy was created. In due course, all the students did live up to that expectation. This coincides with the recognition of the value of what they are doing and the behaviour becomes truly independent rather than purely response to expectation.

Result: 

Students finished the course with a record of what they had learnt, a resource to take away, and a more independent approach to their listening skills development. Out of 36 responses, 35 were “yes” and one was “no”, who thought that there were too many strategies to juggle. This student hadn’t yet reached the point of being able to select strategies independently. With 8 weeks of teaching, expecting all students to reach that point may be a little over-ambitious. Many students commented that the strategy tables were useful for reviewing what had been learnt in previous lessons and made remembering the strategies and how to use them easier. I was particularly pleased with comments that cropped up regarding the utility of the strategy table beyond the end of the course. If learners can see how something is going to be useful to them long-term, they are likely to invest more in using it, and be more independent in their use of it.

Comments on the strategy table.

Comments on the strategy table.

Comments on the strategy table (2)

Comments on the strategy table (2)

 

Comments on the strategy table (3)

Comments on the strategy table (3)

 

 Transferability:

I think use of a strategy table would transfer nicely to exam preparation classes, where exam strategies are key to success. It could also potentially be useful in terms of accumulating a record of learning strategies met and experimented with, or resources. In the past, I have given learners a handout with different resources for them to try. I wonder if getting them to create this handout themselves, collaboratively perhaps, might be even more effective…

  • Listening logs

Listening log in action!

Listening log in action!

These were made and introduced alongside the strategy tables. The idea was not by own but based on what I’ve learnt by reading about teaching listening. I adapted it to this context. As with the strategy tables, I started the learners off with an example. The goals were to encourage independent listening, to help learners develop metacognitive awareness and to avoid the scenario (much bemoaned by listening teachers) of the question “What have you listened to since the last lesson? Which strategies have you practiced?” being met with blank stares. Again, as with the strategy tables, learners compared their logs at the beginning of each lesson.

Result:

Some students thought the log could be improved by including space for their actual note-taking. Others thought it wasn’t for them. Those that used it, however, did find it useful, as a means of structuring and tracking their out-of-class listening and tracking their progress.

Listening log comments (1)

Listening log comments (1)

Listening log comments (2)

Listening log comments (2)

Listening log comments (3)

Listening log comments (3)

Listening log comments (4)

Listening log comments (4)

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Listening log comments (5)

Transferability: 

As I have learnt through my own language learning this summer, as well as through these students’ experiences, logging is an incredibly useful thing to do. I think it is very transferable to the General English classroom. Students can log their out-of-class study and in the process create a record of their efforts, achievements and progress. Personally speaking, I’ve found it a useful way of maintaining motivation. I think learning logs could be also usefully used in conjunction with something like a learning contract. I think it needs careful thought though, as to how valuable it’s going to be. For example with these students, it wasn’t just what they did that they recorded, but how they went about it (in terms of strategy choice) and reflections on that experience.

  • Reprocessing information/strategies

As well as using listening logs and strategy tables with the students, I also used classroom activities to encourage them to reprocess what they were learning and really internalise it. For example, mingles in which the students played strategy guessing games or simply recalled as many strategies (and what they involve) as they could in a given time frame, swapping partners frequently and repeating (generally also collecting and taking with them information/ideas from their various partners – enabling them to benefit from a collective understanding of what they were learning).

Another effective activity was getting students, in groups to create mind-maps of the strategies, which they then presented to their classmates:

Mind-maps (1)

Mind-maps (1)

IMG_0674

Mind-maps (2)

IMG_0673

Mind-maps (3)

Result:

This encouraged deeper processing both of what the strategies involved and how they relate to each other as well as to the task at hand. We did the activity in a lesson subsequent to one in which the focus of the lecture extract was on categorisation (e.g. Aristotle’s classification of the world) and using diagrams in note-taking, so this task also developed that theme by requiring students to categorise the strategies and present their ideas visually.

Transferability: 

Activities like this obviously have great transferability potential, and,  as well as encouraging deeper processing of lesson content, give students opportunity to use language meaningfully and benefit from each others’ knowledge and understanding.

  • Systematic introduction of out-of-class listening resources 

At the end of each class, I gave students a new resource to try (e.g. Oxford University podcasts, UCL lunchtime lectures etc.) and at the beginning of the next class, they had to report back to their classmates regarding what they had done with the resource and an evaluation of it. This was done in conjunction with using the listening logs described above. Again, uptake wasn’t instantaneous, but perseverance meant students did use the resources in due course – and develop their listening.

This was a more directed version of my Experimentation with English project. It seemed logical as EAP is more directed too: goals are very specific, and specific needs relating to these require specific resources. I think there is something to be said for for introducing resources piece-meal, in terms of not overwhelming students. Having said that, my students at IH loved the handout with all the different resources.

Transferability:

I wonder about using this approach in conjunction with my EE project. So, as well as giving learners the resource, going through a more directed process so that all the learners end up trying at least some of the resources. Then, those who are more independent will inevitably try more besides, but perhaps the gap between the more and less independent might be lessened by the extra direction.  I think this could also be transferable to exam preparation classes, in terms of encouraging students to use different exam preparation resources to prepare, and sharing what they learn with each other.

Conclusions:

It was a very interesting summer, and, I am happy to say, my three groups performed very strongly overall in the listening component of the listening proficiency/entrance exam. Importantly, they also felt they had made progress, thanks to the concrete means of measuring it (e.g. strategy tables and listening logs), which helped maintain motivation and encourage a feeling of all the hard work they were putting in being worthwhile. Equally importantly, they were equipped to continue to develop their skills independently and apply what they had learnt in the new context. (Encouraged by frequent pushing from me to reflect on the relevance of what we were doing to what they would be doing in the future – i.e. their university courses!).

I now look forward to trying to transfer what I have learnt to my current context and help my new students to be develop as effectively as possible over the short duration that they are studying with me.